Sri Lankan boxers lagging behind, caught on the wrong footing | Sunday Observer

Sri Lankan boxers lagging behind, caught on the wrong footing

14 August, 2022
Sajeewani Cooray (Blue) exchanging blows with her South African opponent
Sajeewani Cooray (Blue) exchanging blows with her South African opponent

Sri Lanka’s eight-member boxing team went with high expectations of bringing home medals at the XXII Commonwealth Games after their success in the 2018 Gold Coast but the bitter truth is there is a big gulf between Sri Lanka’s champions and the level of competition at the international level.

What was even more appalling was their lack of commitment in some instances while most lacked technical excellence to land a decent scoring blow to make any impact. With three of the boxers missing from the Games Village, they proved that they are better at running than fighting to bring glory to the nation.

Northern Ireland dominated the boxing competition winning five golds, one silver and a bronze medal but two England pugilists reminded Sri Lanka they needed to go back to the basics of throwing a jab at any level of competition.

Layton Cup Best Boxer Sanjeewa Bandara Rajakaruna was all at sea against England’s Joseph Tyers in the light welter (under 63.5kg) weight category which had 29 entries. Tyers used his reach advantage to pepper his shorter adversary with left jabs to win by unanimous decision. Rajakaruna seemed leaden-footed and could hardly catch his opponent being virtually outclassed in all aspects. Tyer lost in the quarter-finals.

When 2018 Gold Coast bronze medallist Ishan Bandara and Wimukthi Kumara featured on the fourth day of the boxing competition, many expected the Sri Lankan duo to up the ante by bringing forth their many years of experience and domination at home. Alas much to the disappointment of Sri Lankan fans present, they indulged in a virtual sparring session with their opponents. Or rather it looked like they were shadow boxing as they hardly punched in anger.

Up against a 24-year-old Englishman Kiaran MacDonald, silver medallist at the 2022 European Championship and participant at the World Championship, Bandara cut a sorry figure against the taller southpaw in the fly (under 51k) weight round of 16 contest. It was a mismatch as Bandara had no answer to the speed and accuracy of MacDonald who whipped right crosses and scored with powerful left jabs to stun his rival. Despite counting years of experience at home and abroad, winning a silver medal at the Eindhoven Box Cup in the run-up to the Games, Bandara cut a pathetic figure desperately looking to his corner for advice at every given opportunity. His attempts to lead with left hooks instead of using his right hand which was kept in cold storage seemed to indicate that he was fighting a southpaw for the first time in his career to lose by a unanimous decision. MacDonald had to be content with a silver medal after losing by unanimous decision to India’s Amit Panghal who won the gold to add to his silver in 2018 Gold Coast. India was second in the boxing medals tally winning a total of seven medals, including three gold.

Jeewantha Wimukthi Kumara fighting in the feather (under 57kg) weight round of 16 bouts against Guyana’s Keevin Allicock gave another disappointing performance. He hardly fought, occasionally swinging wildly with both hands while the Guyanese kept him at bay easily to win by unanimous decision. Allicock lost a split decision to a Canadian in the next bout.

Sri Lanka’s leading woman pugilist Keshani Hansika also came up short against a Belfast brawler Carly McNail in the women’s light fly (under 50kg) quarter-final. Competing in her third Games, Hansika who began her career fighting in the 60kg weight, looked a pale shadow of her real fighting self. Hansika displayed sound ringcraft to fight in the long range but her combinations lacked sting with McNail landing solid blows to win by unanimous decision with two judges scoring 30-26 in her favour. However, McNail lost in the final to the reigning world champion India’s Nikhat Zareen.

Veteran Air Force woman pugilist Sajeewani Cooray and former Gamini Central College, Ingiriya star Rukmal Prasanna kept Sri Lanka’s hopes for a boxing medal alive when they fought their way into the quarter-finals. Cooray outclassed a game contender from Pakistan Mehreen in the feather (under 57kg) round of 16 clash to win by unanimous decision. Southpaw Prasanna was in command throughout his bantam (under 54kg) weight round of 16 clash against a rugged Kenyan Shaffi Bakari Hassan to earn a split decision victory.

However, Cooray found her younger rival from South Africa too hot to handle in the quarter-final despite fighting toe-to-toe receiving ‘eight’ counts in the second and third rounds for staggering blows before the referee stopped the contest midway in the final round. Prasanna was a completely different fighter in the quarter-final against Ghana’s Abraham Mensah. He was not his calm steady self like in the previous bout. Instead of boxing he decided to go hammer and tongs to overpower his tough rival in a scrappy bout with the referee having to separate the boxers clinching frequently. Prasanna lost his focus on landing scoring blows. To add to his woes he was warned twice for pushing or not stepping back being deducted crucial points. Mensah was also warned once for head-butting but Prasanna lost a close decision 3:1 with one judge scoring 27-27. The tactics Prasanna chose in this contest were inexplicable. The 19-year-old Ghanaian went on to win a silver medal losing to Northern Ireland’s Dylan James Eagleson.

Little was expected from Niklas Vittalis making his international debut though he fought gamely against a Samoan in the Light Middle (under 71kg) weight round of 16 contest. He was outpointed with two judges scoring 30-26 and 30-25 in favour of the Samoan who was stopped by a Tanzanian boxer in the next round.

The last woman standing for Sri Lanka was Nadeeka Pushpakumari Ranasinghe who was up against Botswana’s Lethabo Bokamoso in the minimum (under 48kg) weight quarter-final. She displayed good fighting instincts and ringcraft but lost the plot in the final 30 seconds against her younger rival who staggered her with left and right hooks. Ranasinghe was oozing with confidence in her body language but dropping her guard momentarily resulted in her failure to finish strongly losing her mouthpiece also in the process to suffer a split 4:1 decision with one judge scoring 28-28 while another scored 30-26 in favour of the Botswana boxer who lost to England’s Demie-Jade Resztan in the next round. Nitu Nitu won the third gold medal for India by defeating the Englishwoman in the final.

The Boxing Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) and the national selectors need to rethink their strategy before sending boxers to international competitions. For instance, it is pointless sending only those boxers who win trial meets at home but fail to perform at the international level. The next best boxer in each weight class should be sent to different competitions so that everyone gets international exposure. It is also important to have national pool training so that boxers in each weight class get quality sparring sessions. On the other hand women, pugilists hardly have any local competition. The BASL should look at sending future medal prospects for training camps in India, South Korea, or Chinese Taipei. BASL’s aim to send six boxers to Cuba for high-performance training was scuttled because of the economic crisis.

Meanwhile, Olympic referee Nelka Shiromala kept Sri Lanka’s flag flying high in the final by officiating the Light welter (63.5kg) weight final between Scotland’s Reese Lynch and Richarno Colin of Mauritius. She also officiated in two semifinal bouts in her second appearance at the Commonwealth Games. Another three-star referee Susantha Weerasena who made his debut at the Games officiated until the quarter-final stage.

A total number of 231 boxers from 55 countries including 59 women competed in 16 weight categories. The number of medal-winning countries was 19, number of the finalist countries was 13 and the number of nations with titles was six. Hosts England had the largest delegation of 14 boxers.